Best of 2011 - Andrew's picks (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Best of 2011

Andrew's picks (2011)

staff picks

Andrew is a news editor. - ed.

Well, this is weird. This time last year I was having problems sleeping, talking to my doctor about going on medication for my anxiety and depression and feeling altogether gnarly about virtually everything. This year, I'm writing a best of list for a site I've been reading since I was 15 years old, as part of the new wave of staff who joined in the autumn of 2011.

On the topic of the whole depression thing, the records I connected with this year reflected that a lot, and I didn't dig into quite as many as I'd have liked. For a good chunk of 2011 I was in a right old state, having regular panic attacks, avoiding social situations, doing the old fashioned bed-cry and all the other fun stuff a 25-year-old struggling with new and shiny mental health disorders is prone to do. When my mood was down, I tended to return to older, more comfortable records, where I knew exactly what I was getting, or I worked out till I could barely more, to an even mix of Sick of It All, Alexandra Burke and Nicki Minaj.

It's through exercise (cardiovascular is best, mostly running) that I get my depression and anxiety under control. Family and friends help too. Another huge thing has been the self esteem boost I've gotten from working on Punknews. The staff really are a lovely group of people, and I'm enormously grateful that they thought enough of my other thing, I Live Sweat, to invite me to join their ranks.

Mostly I'm happy to have stuff on my CV that doesn't pertain to DJing, washing pots, delivering newspapers or collecting social science degrees.

To borrow a slogan from the LGBT community, with mental health stuff, if you get help from the people around you, and your doctor, it gets better. 2011 was the year it got better.

You lot better crack some jokes in the comments, because this has been altogether too bloody sincere by half.




Austin Lucas: A New Home in the Old World

Last Chance

The follow up to 2009's Somebody Loves You, A New Home in the Old World sees Austin expand the arrangements in terms of instrumentation, while maintaining the consummate songwriting and delivery that makes his work so strong. Once again, Austin's varied influences, and obvious love of a range of American folk styles, offers up an album that hearkens back, while retaining a sense of timelessness. There are very good reasons these sounds have endured, and Austin helps you to see them.


Tin Armor: Life of Abundance


From the first time I heard the opening piano bars, this album really got under my skin. While the instrumentation is of an excellent standard, offering a haunting but oddly comforting tone to the record, the lyrics are the standout point, for my money. A deftly phrased, insightful study on life in our particular corner of "Generation Y," sincere without being staid and witty without being disconnected, this is an album for those evenings of introspection that seem to afflict young people of a certain character in their mid-20s.


Crazy Arm: Union City Breath

Xtra Mile

This combination of driving rock and roll and punk sounds like its album art suggests. It stands as a document of contemporary Britain, suffering under a Conservative-led coalition government, bent on cutting away vast chunks of the welfare state, as well as attacking other public services. This album stands as an expertly crafted howl of injustice. Crazy Arm are easily one of the most important punk bands in the U.K. today.


One Win Choice: Conveyor

Jump Start

Conveyor is, more than anything else, a treatise on the experience of alienation, and the application of such into well directed rage. While certainly aggressive, it stands, to me at least, as an invitation to find comfort in a common feeling of righteous fury. In short, this album will make you feel magnificently pissed off, and if you've got something to direct that rage toward constructively, all the better. The best album to work out to since Set It Straight's Live Your Heart And Never Follow.


Dan Andriano in the Emergency Room: Hurricane Season

Asian Man

Ever since his work with Tuesday in 1997, we've been able to rely on Daniel Andriano to provide intensely emotive songs, and those of us who are Alkaline Trio fans have come to know his work extremely well. As a long term Alkaline Trio fan myself, I've noticed a tendency in Dan to veer toward slower, more intimately introspective songs in recent years, and this is certainly the case with this, his first solo full length in his guise as the Emergency Room.

It's difficult to offer anything other than a wholly subjective view of this record for a couple of reasons. In the first place, as I've said, I'm an Alkaline Trio fan of some 10 years now, and so what I find in the work of an artist I've been following for that length of time is almost certainly coloured by that depth of context. In the second place, I've been dealing with mental health issues lately, specifically depression and anxiety, and while depression and it's related themes have been influential in Dan's work for many years, they seem a lot more pronounced on this record. Maybe that's me picking things out more since my diagnosis, but either way, this was a tough album for me to get into. That's not a comment on the quality of the work, but rather a comment on my state of mind at the time. As I got a better handle on my depression, I got a better handle on the album, and rather than being brought down further by the themes presented within, I began to take comfort in the fact that one of my favorite musicians was writing about the thing I'd been struggling with for months. If there's a point to any of this; music, I mean; it's got to be in it's capacity to communicate that which is often difficult to express fully, and Hurricane Season accomplishes that lofty aim with apparent ease. It's a richly rewarding portrait of an accomplished songwriter at the top of his game, but it should be approached in the right way, particularly if you're struggling with similar feelings yourself.


Banquets: Top Button, Bottom Shelf

Black Numbers

I've been all over this album for many of the same reasons I've been all over the Dan Andriano record, but from a different angle, if that makes sense. If I've learned anything about dealing with depression effectively, it's that vigilance and perspective are hugely important virtues. If you can keep an eye on your moods, and process that information as rationally as possible, the nastier side of things is a lot easier to predict and counter. What that means, in practice, is that having a catchy and melodic pop-punk record on hand to bust out the air drums to is a huge boon so the patient with a predilection for punk rock.

This album isn't particularly experimental, but it does what it does extremely well, and what it does is deliver melodic pop-punk, the kind that invites impromptu singalongs and huge grins, like nothing else this year. Simply put, this album is a good buzz, and short of a six mile run or half-an-hour pounding a heavy bag, there's nothing to beat it for getting your eyes bright and your emotional seesaw weighted on the posi-as-owt side. Get stoked.


Fucked Up: David Comes to Life


As something of an unreconstructed David Bowie fan, there are a few things that can be guaranteed to pique my interest about a record. Those things are, for those who care, gloriously unapologetic genderfuckery/androgyny, musicians with comically large sideburns and concept albums. In this case, only the latter is relevant, but it is relevant like the sun is warm.

David Comes To Life is a sprawling monster of a concept record, whilst also being a driving and kinetic punk rock tour de force. On the surface, its narrative is fairly straightforward, until about halfway through, when it becomes apparent just how meta it is, and just how much Fucked Up are intent on forcing the listener to think. Like other great works of fiction where meta-narrative holds sway, the album rewards your attention, and will continue to do so the more you return to it. Proof, if proof were needed, that you can produce a progressive work without it sounding proggy, or shoving your head up your arse. The thinking person's choice.


The Hotel Year: It Never Goes Out

Mightier Than Sword

A soaring pop-punk record that somehow manages to turn a Smiths reference in the final track into my favorite gang vocal of the year. Emotive without being sappy, and a whole lot of fun. It's okay for albums to just be fun, right? In all seriousness, the gang vocals on this album are the radness, at least to my Irn Bru-addled mind.


Chuck Ragan: Covering Ground

SideOneDummy Records

It's difficult to stress just how warm and comforting Chuck Ragan's solo work sounds, to me at least. There's a lot of flack gets thrown at punk and hardcore musicians who have embarked on more folk-based solo work in recent years, and I've never really understood that. As I see it, the song is everything, and the songs, reduced to their most essential and timeless components, are the things that stand out most in Chuck's work, as well it should be.

Covering Ground isn't a huge departure from the musical styles of Feast Or Famine or Gold Country, and that's no bad thing. It's no secret that Chuck is a gifted songwriter and musician, and his solo work continues to show us a man with everything to say, but nothing to prove. That Chuck seems so comfortable in his work, speaking for myself, allows me to listen to his work in comfort, even when that work deals with uncomfortable things. This year I've come back to this album again and again, on those nights when I'm feeling rough, and there's nobody on hand who can talk to me. When nobody is around to listen, I listen to Chuck, and it's like getting understanding and advice from a true friend. Magnificent.


The Lusitania: Rain and Rivers

Suburban Home

Harmonicas, organs, gravelly vocals... Truly these are the things which make Andy smile, but to put those things together and not just be good, but great, is a rare thing. Two Cow Garage managed it with Sweet Saint Me last year, and this year the Lusitania pulled it off too, with delightful panache, and swing. Swing is a key component here, and I don't mean swing like the genre on your old 78s, but the sense of rhythm that makes great rock and roll excellent for dancing, or just tapping your preferred appendage. There are tracks on this album that make me want to dance down the street like the infamous "emo" Peter Parker from Spider-man 3, and that's no bad thing. There are also plenty of quieter moments, and while there is a rich and varied range of instrumentation on show, that never threatens to overpower things. Everything has it's place, and the best word I can think of for that quality is "concise." I'm really struggling to put into words just what it is I love about this record, so you should probably go and listen to it now. I know I will be. Cheers.